The other day I remarked to someone as to how their day job designing games must be the coolest thing ever. In reply this person said, “Well you spend your time writing about dinosaurs. How awesome is that?” Yes, indeed, I need to stop and remind myself that I do have a totally fabulous day job writing about what I love.
Better yet is doing the field research. For example, a few weeks ago, I visited the pterosaur exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. As I gaped at the full-sized reproductions and fossil casts, and absorbed the explanations as to the differences between a pteranodon wing and that of a bird or a bat, I was grinning from ear to ear. It brought to mind my very first time staring up at a dinosaur fossil at age five. For me, prehistoric creatures are as stirring in 2016 as they were decades ago.
As for the above photo of me, I thought it was interesting to see that velociraptors weren’t particularly large. No doubt they made up for their small stature with lightning reflexes and those sickle claws on their feet.
For everyone who can’t get enough of my dinosaur stories, I’m pleased to announce that the terrific folks at Digital Science Fiction have reprinted my stand-alone story Dino Mate. It features Marty and Julianna, the intrepid time travelers of “Not with a Bang” and “Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs.” But the real stars are the Jurassic kentrosauruses, those fantastical creatures sporting spikes along their tails and the plates of a stegosaurus. They’re a little-known African dinosaur discovered over a hundred years ago in what was then German East Africa.
I hope you’ll give it a read.
What can a non-dinosaurphile learn from a journey, however brief or prolonged, into the Mesozoic? How many dinosaur species existed? How can we extrapolate so much about dinosaurs and so much about the history of the Earth based on, well, a handful of decayed carcasses? Or do we have other clues? What do we not know about dinosaurs and need to know and why do we need to know?
These were a few of the thought-provoking questions that Carl Slaughter asked when he interviewed me for SF Signal. While I pondered my answers, I learned a couple of things, myself. First, it’s a lot more fun to be interviewed about a topic that you love, particularly when the interviewer’s comes at the subject in a way that you hadn’t quite considered before. I hope you’ll check it out, particularly if you’re like me in that you’ve never lost your love for dinosaurs. And while you’re at it, I hope you’ll read Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs in the April 2016 Analog.
One of my favorite protagonists, Marty Zuber, returns to the pages of Analog (April 2016) to discover that the slipperiest of creatures may not be a Cretaceous dinosaur but rather is Diamond Jim, a fellow time traveler. Worse yet, Diamond Jim has teamed up with Marty’s rival, Derek Dill. The story is set in Antarctica. Yes indeed, our southernmost continent teemed with all manner of dinosaurs, to say nothing of other exotic critters. The April issue of Analog should go on sale any day now. I hope you’ll continue to follow Marty’s Mesozoic adventures with Julianna, which began in “Not With a Bang,” (Analog, July/August 2013) and continued in “Dino Mate” (Analog, December 2014). If you missed those earlier stories, you can still obtain single issues. Also, check back later as I’ll have more news on where you can read about Marty, Julianna, and Mesozoic dinosaurs.
Analog’s December issue features my second guest editorial, “The Future is Prologue.” Astute readers will recognize my reworking of Shakespeare’s line from The Tempest, “Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come, in yours and my discharge.”
Unlike a Shakespearean play, dinosaurs have managed to tromp into my editorial. But hey, they’ve been good to me and my writing, and who am I to say no to them? I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the Dec. 2015 Analog either electronically or in print, as it has the latest work by several fine Analog regulars such as Ed Lerner, Bud Sparhawk, Kristine Kathyrn Rusch and esteemed Editor Emeritus Stanley Schmidt
When my last guest editorial was published in the July/August 2015 issue of Analog, I got several questions, which I’ll answer here.
1. How did you come to write a guest editorial? My thanks go to Trevor Quachri for suggesting that I try my hand at writing this guest editorial. It concerns the refinement of scientific hypotheses over time. As a one-time archaeologist, I’ve always been fascinated by the ways in which scientific thought ebbs and flows over the decades,
2. How is writing an editorial similar to writing fiction? I see several similarities. Everything begins with an idea that caught my interest and which I suspect may intrigue readers, too. Next comes the search for specific incidents to propel the editorial or story forward. In addition, both forms of writing benefit from an opening hook, rely on compelling prose to keep the reader turning the pages, and must have a central theme.
3. How does writing an editorial differ from writing a story? Two ways. First, an editorial can be more didactic, as readers are expecting the writer to put forth a set of viewpoints accompanied by cogent reasoning. In contrast, when reading fiction, people don’t want to be subjected to a sermon, which they’ll skip over to get to the “good stuff.” Or they might abandon the story entirely and hunt up something more interesting. Second, editorials are subject to a pretty strict word count. The writer must select a topic that can be addressed well in 1800 to 2200 words. In contrast, short fiction will vary from under 1000 words to 20,000 words or more.
4. Can your readers expect to see more guest editorials instead of stories? I hope the answer isn’t either/or. I have fun w both. In fact, my next appearance in Analog will be a novelette featuring several characters my readers have seen before plus some new ones to keep things interesting.
Quick quiz for those of you who’ve always been into fossils.
1. What is a fossil?
A) The bones of a dead creature
B) Stone in which minerals have replaced the remains of a dead creature
C) A footprint, claw mark, burrow or other record of what a dead creature once did
(Hint: More than one answer may be correct.)
2. At how many national parks in the United States have fossils been discovered?
B) Fifty six
C) Over two hundred sixty
The National Park Service has an interesting website about fossils. Some terrific fossils have been discovered in our national parks. Apart from the fact that fossils are way cool, why does the government spend some (a very small portion) of our tax dollars on studying fossils? The website explains that, too. In brief, what’s gone before has much to tell us about life on Earth today.
So here’s wishing you a happy National Fossil Day.
- A, B, & C
Eggs. Feathers. Hunting packs. Dinosaur fossils are giving paleontologists tantalizing dribs and drabs of evidence as to all sorts of things these days, evidence suggesting not only what dinosaurs looked like, but how they may have lived beginning with the moment they hatched to the way they moved, to how they hunted, to how they interacted with their own species, and so much more. A lot of this was presumed to be unknowable when I was in college, back when all that paleontologists had to study were the bones that happened to have survived for tens or hundreds of millions of years. Plus, more and more intriguing specimens are being discovered and described every day from every continent, even Antarctica.
For a science fiction writer like me, all this means that September is the time to begin a new chapter in my education. I’m looking forward to taking Dino 101 again. Whew! They sure don’t make those Mesozoic critters like they used to.
Final note: A (virtual) gold star goes to those of you who recognized that this distinctive looking dinosaur comes from China and has been named Anchiornis huxleyi.
A while back I was chatting with a fellow writer of dinosaur tales. I asked if he worried that advances in paleontology would render some of the details in his stories obsolete. He said certain aspects of his major work had become out of date even before publication.
Ugh! How does a writer deal with this? For some time, I consoled myself with the fact that I loved as much as ever the classic dinosaur stories I’d grown up reading. So what if they did have a “brontosaurus” or two instead of an “apatosaurus?” And then, just this year, it looks as though the nomenclature may be swinging back in favor of “brontosaurus.”
Now, another surprising thing has happened, something that is the very opposite of what I had feared. A recent article in the journal PLOS One suggests that differences in the big bony plates running along the spine of one species of stegosaurus (Stegosaurus mjosi) may be the product of sexual dimorphism. In other words, males and females had differently shaped dermal plates. One sex possessed wide, oval plates 45% larger in surface area than the tall, narrow plates of the other sex. Intermediate shapes were not found. Given that a number of individuals were found together, the variation cannot be ascribed to different species. Nor is it due to changes as the creatures grew from infants to adulthood. Nor do the plates come from different positions on the back of one individual.
I’m excited by this development because my story, “Dino Mate,” published in the December 2014 issue of Analog contains speculation about the spikes on the kentrosaurus, which is a related dinosaur found in East Africa instead of Western North America. Without spoiling the story, I can say that I’m gratified to read of new scientific discoveries, which provide rich fodder for science fiction writers like me.
As science proceeds forward, new paleontological data–which means new specimens and measurements of bones–suggests that Brontosaurus is really a different genus than Apatosaurus. I’m thrilled for two reasons. First, what child who grew up loving Brontosaurus wouldn’t be happy to see it reinstated for sentimental reasons alone. But secondly, and more importantly, I’m always pleased to see that a field of scientific inquiry is open to acknowledging previous misinterpretations, revisiting and revising long held beliefs. It’s how our own species makes scientific advances.
All that said, it could be too early yet to know if the restoration of Brontosaurus will stick. That’s another terrific thing about science, and especially paleontology, namely that it’s full of surprises. Stay tuned.
For more on this announcement, check out http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150407085256.htm
When writing about dinosaurs and other creatures tromping, swimming, or flitting through the Mesozoic, it becomes necessary to refer to a whole bunch of them. What exactly are they called? I’ve decided to invent my own collective nouns.
An aerie of Archaeopterx
An ambush of Albertosaurs
An array of Oviraptors
A battery of Baryonyxs
A brood of Brachiosaurs
A colony of carnosaurs
A drove of Dryosaurus
A herd of Herrerasaurs
A horde of horned Hadrosaurs
A mob of Mosasaurs
A pack of Pachycephalosaurs
A terror of Tyrannosaurs
A troop of Triceratopsians
Naturally, one needs some collective nouns for those being who may interact with the dinosaurs, such as—
A passel of paleontologists
A panic of proto-mammals